The chart shows that some other schools have a much greater gap between their legislated averages and their official averages than ASU’s 0.7 for 2012. Particularly questionable is UNC-Greensboro’s gap of 1.7 courses per semester for 2012.
Based on our review of UNC-Greensboro teaching loads, its official average of 4.2 courses per semester defies credibility. The Pope Center included two Greensboro departments in its study; for the Spring semester in 2013, the sociology department averaged 3.1 courses, while the nursing school averaged 2.2 courses. Though the Pope Center calculations are for tenure-track professors only, it is mathematically impossible for even an infinite number of part-time professors—whose average is 4.0 by definition—to raise the average above 4.0 (teaching loads don’t change drastically from one semester to the next). There are also not enough full-time non-tenured lecturers to significantly alter the numbers. Something seems very amiss.
Another area we explored was how teaching loads changed over the past few years. This is exceedingly important, as large cuts in state appropriations that began in the Fall of 2011 caused an outcry among UNC officials about the potential harm to the academic mission. We used the same sample of 14 departments from 7 different campuses, in a wide variety of disciplines, from the Spring of 2011 (the last semester before the cuts) and the Spring of 2013. During that period, we found no change at all in tenure-track teaching loads—for 2011 it was 2.35 and for 2013 it was 2.34. This lack of change conflicts with the UNC system’s claim that teaching loads (FTE) increased from 3.5 to 3.7 in those same years (Fall semesters).
Furthermore, it does not appear that there was a wholesale flight to using more adjuncts for teaching to hold down costs. In fact, the number of tenure-track faculty in the Pope Center sample increased from 298 to 320 in the two-year period.
With both tenure-track teaching loads and the number of tenure-track professors roughly stable, it seems that there was quite a bit of money in the UNC budget that could be cut in 2011 without affecting faculty workloads. This absence of stress on the system also raises the question how much more of that “cushion”—including such non-essential spending as unfilled faculty positions and unproductive staff jobs—is still in existence. In one eyebrow-raising example, at UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt hired six new Title IX compliance officials when the work was previously handled by one part-time administrator.
The issue of UNC teaching loads needs further exploration. The official figures claimed by UNC are considerably higher than both legislated expectations and our study—conducted with as strict adherence to the Delaware Study methods as possible—and the data sent to the Delaware Study by the only school we could observe has glaring inconsistencies. Both of those situations raise the question whether the UNC system is providing incorrect information to legislators and the public.
A study using independent outside researchers under the direction of the Board of Governors, the legislature, or the governor’s office would be best to ensure that the public is not being fed incorrect information. Doing so could save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars without affecting the quality of instruction.
Additionally, it may be time to add a new wrinkle to the legislated standards for faculty working loads by differentiating according to academic disciplines as well as according to the types of institutions. Certainly in some fields—the humanities, especially—research is less likely to have important repercussions for the rest of society, and in those fields the teaching loads could be higher. In the university system’s own funding formula, teaching a course in the humanities consumes fewer resources—largely the instructor’s time—than does teaching the physical sciences. There are great savings to be had by a small increase in teaching loads in the humanities and some other subjects at the six large research institutions—likely into the tens of millions of dollars.
Of course, with so much money riding on state officials’ perceptions of UNC faculty workloads, there is an incentive for UNC officials to inflate their averages. Those with authority over the system—whether legislators or Board of Governors members—need to make sure that doesn’t happen. The way to do it is to conduct a more objective, more transparent accounting of faculty teaching loads that will include a critical examination of the data.
(Editor’s note: We are still waiting on some public records requests we made in April from UNC-Charlotte and Fayetteville State University. Their response could make slight differences to our computed averages for the entire UNC system, which were stated in the article as 2.34 for the Spring of 2013 and 2.35 for the Spring of 2011.)
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